San Francisco’s Michelin-loved restaurant Robin has hatched a new restaurant on the Peninsula.
Like its Hayes Valley predecessor, the new Robin has no food menu. That’s how chef Adam Tortosa likes it. Without a menu, there are no decisions to be made, no risk of ordering only familiar dishes, no chance of feeling intimidated by unrecognizable ingredients or preparations. It puts the meal in the hands of its makers—and guarantees it’ll never be the same thing twice.
What you do choose at Robin is the price you’d like to pay for your meal. They individually tailor their nightly tasting menu using a sliding scale that ranges from $109 to $189 per person. The higher you go, the more high-end inclusions (think uni, wagyu beef, truffles, and super decadent toro) you get in the virtually endless parade of uber-fresh seafood.
But while the new Robin takes the same contemporary-cool approach to omakase as its first location, the restaurant isn’t exactly the same as the original; it’s better. For starters, the moody dining room with its stormy mural (painted by the much-sought-after local artist Caroline Lizarraga ), earth-toned seating, and charred black wood accents reminiscent of traditional Japanese construction, is much larger than its pocket-sized predecessor.
Robin's nigiri is at turns playful, sophisticated, and elegantly simple. (Courtesy of Robin)
Perhaps more importantly, unlike Robin SF, Robin Menlo Park has a liquor license. That means there’s plenty of whiskey behind the bar, along with a highball machine for on-demand carbonation. The expansion rounds out an already complex sake menu focused on unique craft distilleries in Japan and the Bay Area (served in equally complex, handmade ceramic ware from Southern Japan), as well as wine from California and Europe.
Because I need no excuse for a celebration, I go all in for my first taste at Robin Menlo Park—whiskey highballs, sake, and a top-shelf price tag included.
After confirming any food prohibitions (“I’m trying to avoid octopi and their extreme intelligence”) and aversions (“uni in small doses only, please”), my server launches the kitchen into its choreographed dance behind the sushi bar.
The first dish to arrive is a ceviche-like dream of halibut sashimi and smoked pineapple, subtly earthy and mildly tart. I’ve barely licked my chopsticks clean before the now empty dish is swept away and replaced with a delicate salad of raw scallop, stone fruit, and chopped almonds dressed with yuzu vinaigrette. For the next 90 minutes, the eats keep coming at a rapid pace.
The dishes at Robin change so frequently that it's never the same meal twice. (Courtesy of Robin)
It’s somewhere around the fourth or fifth course that I temporarily abandon my notebook and focus on the table. Robin’s omakase isn’t what the Japanese would call traditional. Its nigiri, for example, comes dotted with spicy apricot jam and tomatillo salsa, with slivers of peaches and chopped apples. It's at turns playful (a housemade potato chip nigiri topped with caviar), sophisticated (lightly seared king salmon topped with a paper-thin slice of truffle), and elegantly simple (amberjack with ponzu). The bespoke serveware, a collection of sculptural shapes that evoke natural elements like eggs and coral, is as remarkable as the silky and delicate fish on top of it.
After more than a dozen courses, the curtain finally falls with a crowd-pleasing sundae of coconut soft serve drizzled with macerated strawberries, pistachios, and almonds. But when my server returns for a final check-in and asks what from the meal most tickled my fancy, I’m temporarily stunned into silence. Was it the toro tartar bathed in a morel reduction and served with tiny milk toasts? The noodles with shaved truffle and chimichurri? The Spanish mackerel sashimi in chili ponzu sauce? It’s impossible to decide.
“It was just all so delicious,” I stammer—because, honestly, it was. When I return (and I will return), it won’t be for a specific dish but for Robin’s overall artistry—for its exquisite food, its swanky darkness, its funky tableware and pop art paintings of mythological Japanese creatures.
After all, isn’t the inability to choose what’s best the highest compliment a menu-free omakase restaurant can hope for?
// Robin Menlo Park is open 5pm to 9:30pm Wednesday through Sunday; 1300 El Camino Real, Ste. C (Menlo Park), robinomakase.com .
Uni nigiri at Robin. (Courtesy of Robin)